Exploring caves of living lights in amazing Waitomo

by Jyo

New Zealand’s world famous glow worm caves in Waitomo are a sight to behold.

I remember the very first picture I had ever seen of New Zealand as a kid, was of these stunning underground caves. It looked as though the milky way descended from the sky, to reflect off a subterranean sea. I longed to go and see this wondrous place.

The caves are illuminated by glow worms unique to New Zealand — their tails are bioluminescent, hence the light. Whether you explore the caves by raft, or as part of a blackwater tubing experience — seeing this tiny galaxy of living lights is mesmerizing.

Once your eyes get used to the darkness, you’ll start to see a faint green glow. The moment of truth though, is when you get on the raft & look up. All you hear is the sound of gushing water & rapids, while underneath a canopy of calm & ever-present green, glowing lights. These worms have been here for centuries, and there you are, a tiny speck of a human, floating for a few minutes in their space. It is so serene, it is overwhelming. I was moved to tears at one point. I tried, in vain, to photograph this and try to capture the wonder. I just couldn’t…. without a tripod, and the moving boat.

Somethings, I suppose are meant to be captured by the heart & mind, and not a camera.

Photo Credit: Waitomo Caves.com & Corin Walker Bain

It was raining the morning of our tour, if it rains and the cave floods, then tours will usually get cancelled. We were fortunate, in that it was a light early morning drizzle, and we were able to continue on the tour. So dew, makes for some amazing macro photography shots! Also, it means you end up contorting in weird angles to get the right camera angle. Sorry, not sorry?

Before you go to Waitomo

  • Waitomo is a renowned tourist destination, keep the crowds in mind as you make your bookings. In my research, I read horror stories of folks who booked larger boat cruises, and were disappointed with their experience — because of obnoxious, loud tourists & shrieking kids (I used to be one of them, and I feel your pain!). My recommendation is to go for a smaller sized, intimate tour that will allow you to appreciate the serenity & awe of the cave. The tour group I used & loved was Spellbound Tours.
  • It rains heavily in the area, if the caves get flooded, tours will be canceled.
  • You can explore the cave through Black water rafting adventures (go tubing in underground rapids) or go cave rappelling if you’re craving a more adventurous way to explore the caves. Allow a full day for this vs. the traditional boat ride, which is a 3 hour activity.
  • Different tour packages will allow you to explore both the wet & dry caves.
  • If interested in photographing the cave, bring a tripod with you & consider a photography tour.

What You’ll See

Waitomo Wet Caves

The tour we took covered the Waitomo wet caves, and the Ruakuri and Aranui dry caves, and both were equally enthralling. Although my favorite was the wet caves by far.

Ruakuri Dry Cave

Filled with spectacular limestone formations, a spiral staircase, the stalactites & stalagmites in the cave are beautiful.

Aranui Dry Cave

Yet another set of dry caves in the Waitomo network, Aranui is home to a few fossils, and the “Weta”, an ancient insect, now an endangered species, dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. You’ll also notice how much greenery Waitomo is surrounded by here.

Plenty of Animal Farms

On the way to Waitomo, you’ll drive by several sheep, goat & ostrich farms — stop by to say hello.

Oh, and there will be loads of these tiny birds staring at you while you eat lunch.

I am Bird. Feed Me.

Wrap up your day warming up by a fireplace & hot cocoa. Mmmm, cocoa…

Warm up by the fire pit

New Zealand’s Waitomo caves, certainly lived up to the Mojo hype. It is one of the most calming & unforgettable places I have visited.

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